RCPS Supt. Oatts prefers local control of school calendar

CONYERS — Rockdale Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Terry Oatts said Thursday he does not support a unified statewide school calendar recommended by a Senate study committee.

“The essence of local control for a school district is the ability to collaborate with staff, students and parents on the determination of a school calendar that best meets the needs of the community stakeholders involved,” said Oatts. “With all due respect, any effort to usurp such local control in the development of a school calendar by imposing start and end dates would be misguided and inconsistent with a commitment to local control.”

The Senate committee spent four months examining a more unified calendar statewide and reported that it found “no evidence to suggest that a more congruent school calendar or a later start date to the school year could have a negative impact on education.”

The 11-member committee consists of four senators, state tourism officials and education leaders. In its final report, the committee recommends a number of actions including local school calendars across the state be required to begin no earlier than approximately seven to 10 days prior to the first Monday in September and end on or about June 1. Putting such “guardrails” in place, according to the committee, will give students a longer summer with less sporadic breaks throughout the year.

The committee stated that introducing a more consistent calendar will allow students to participate in more camps and summer education experiences and give more opportunities for summer employment.

Summer employment, according to the report, will give students the chance to learn soft skills, develop maturity and increase responsibility, work habits, self confidence and interpersonal interaction.

Additionally, the committee concluded that not having a consistent school calendar is detrimental to the state’s tourism and hospitality industry.

“State-based regional tourist attractions rely on high school and college-aged employees and adjust hours of operation based on availability of those students to work,” according to the report.

Michael Dombroski, who testified before the committee as a representative of Stone Mountain Park, stated the park has been “forced to close for an additional 17 full operating days, due to the decreasing summer calendar.”

Stone Mountain attracts more than 4 million visitors annually and employs more than 2,000. Of those, 1,500 positions are part-time or seasonal jobs “largely filled by students.”

The committee stated an extended summer break would directly impact “our business economy” and “allow for vocational growth of our students and workforce in one of Georgia’s leading industries.”

Control over breaks and professional learning days would remain in the hands of the local school boards under the committee’s recommendations.

RCPS allows parents and community stakeholders to participate in a survey each year to help construct the 180-day calendar. With the committee’s findings, this input could become obsolete.

The committee report recognized that local education leaders want local control and flexibility. “However it can’t be ignored that widely varying school start dates and volatile break schedules often come at cost to our students, families and communities,” the committee report states.

In 2008, the General Assembly passed legislation to provide increased flexibility for local school systems. Currently, 13 states impose guidelines on public school calendars, while 37 states allow the school calendar to be a complete district option.

Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, who chaired the committee, also suggested that schools should delay administering Milestones and End-Of-Course tests to later in the year to maximize classroom instruction time and align their calendars with those of Georgia’s technical colleges and universities.

The committees’ recommendations are not set in stone, yet. Gooch said they will continue to have conversations with school boards and members of the Legislature to see where they go from here.

The final report and other official studies can be found at www.senate.ga.gov/committees.

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